Reversing Literary Sprawl


After reading Mark Binelli’s Detroit City Is the Place To Be and Jonathan Franzen’s notorious essay on the state of the novel, “Perchance To Dream”, Alexander Nazaryan compares the decline of the great American novel to the decline of Detroit as an industrial powerhouse:

I guess what I am calling for is the literary equivalent of “rightsizing,” in the lingo of urban planners. The concept suggests that we reclaim cities by returning them to their core functions, by shedding the sprawl that doomed them in the second half of the 20th century — the same cultural sprawl that has diluted American fiction. Writing of Detroit’s plan to rightsize back in 2010, The Economist was glad that “harsh realities have produced radical thinking,” praising Mayor Dave Bing for recognizing the “painful necessity” that the Detroit of bustling factories could never be again. In fact, Detroit’s automotive industry has become back: not enough to return the city to its halcyon days, not enough to heal the scars of its decline, but certainly more than doomsayers would have expected a decade ago. It has done so by becoming leaner, smarter, no longer peddling Hummers, thinking of green energy and efficiency as more than just the fads of coastal elites.

Publishing will have to do the same thing if it wants to save the literary city. It will likely have to look at smaller presses that are publishing less but editing more, who are repacking classics in unexpected ways, who are finding ways to be beat Amazon at the ebook game.

Caption for the above video:

This Landsploitation Short explores the Detroit Book Depository as a scene of memory and forgetting, departing from an exploration of crumbling texts to raise questions about print, media, preservation, and the role of history in the age of digital archives.